Organic on a shoestring. And is organic even worth it??
USDA Organic. Its merits are debatable.
- The program allows pesticides and herbicides that, perhaps, shouldn’t be allowed.
- It also doesn’t — at all — solve the basic problem with farming monoculture.
- And, since an alarmingly increasing number of the small organic farms of years past are getting bought out by huge farming corporations, buying organic is no guarantee of supporting a family farmer, or even a small, locally-owned farm.
- Organic doesn’t mean “local”, either, of course, and folks debate if it’s better for the environment to buy local conventional produce or organic that has been shipped 2,000 miles.
The USDA Organic program definitely not perfect, and it solves few problems with the massive corporate farming system in the United States. The only thing that really consistently solves all those problems is growing your own organic garden, or perhaps supporting your local organic farmer by purchasing a farm share through CSA subscription. I participated in a CSA — it (sob!) just ended for the season last week — but even though I got raw dairy, organically-raised meat, free range eggs, and organically farmed produce, it still didn’t cover all my family’s needs. I’m also growing an organic garden, but I simply don’t have enough room to grow everything we need to feed our family, and even if I had the room, my neighborhood’s HOA doesn’t even allow chickens, let alone a couple of sheep or a cow. While growing your own organic crops and raising your own organic protein of choice is most ideal, that’s not realistic for most of us. And because of those difficulties, I still think eating organic is a good compromise. Not perfect, but good.
Not that I can afford to eat 100% organic; I don’t think I could do that even if there were fewer than seven mouths to feed in our home. So, by and large, we eat “clean” all the time*, and eat organic when possible, and I work towards making organic eating possible on a tight budget. Eating clean and cheap is simple (though inconvenient): Buy loads of fresh fruits and veggies, bulk brown rice and other whole grains, dry beans, some dairy and eggs, some meat, nothing prepared, very few frozen or boxed items, eating every meal from scratch… But eating organic and cheap is much harder.
However, I have found that there are some organic standbys that are consistently the same price — or even less expensive — than conventional. You just have to keep your eyes open and be willing to shop at more than one store. For instance, here in the Phoenix area, there is no reason NOT to eat organic carrots. I know that my local natural foods market, Sprouts, ALWAYS carries five pound bags of organic carrots for $3.99. That’s $0.80/lb. Typically, one-pound bags of conventional carrots are around a dollar. Of course, if you buy conventional in bulk, you may pay around the same price or perhaps a bit less as organic-bulk carrots; five pound bags of conventional carrots are typically $3-4. My point, though, is that you can often (not always) find organic deals, if you keep a sharp eye out.
And, every week, I seek to purchase organic products to stock my fridge and pantry, on a shoestring. My own organic deals of this week:
- Two, ten ounce boxes of Erewhon Organic Crispy Brown Rice gluten-free cereal from Bashas’ (local, family-owned chain) on clearance for $0.99 each. Better price than conventional.
- Sixteen cans of S&W organic canned diced tomatoes, 14.5 oz size, for a net of $0.48 each — purchased in two small 8-pack cases with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon at Costco. Better price than conventional.
- Five pound bag of frozen super sweet white kernel corn by Watts Brothers Farms for $5.49. That’s $1.10/lb. Better price than conventional. You can typically find frozen conventional corn in one pound packages for $1.25 – 1.50. Costco typically carries a selection of 2-5 varieties of organic frozen produce, most hovering around $5 for 5 lbs.
- Half gallon of Horizon half-and-half at Costco, at its normal price of $3.99. My husband and I lighten our coffee with half-and-half and regularly use up about a quart plus a cup every week, so this will last us more than a week. The best price on conventional, all-natural, no-additive half-and-half is $1.87 per quart at Fry’s. It’s $2.29/qt at Bashas’. So, this deal is that you can purchase organic for roughly the same price as conventional.
Every week I have a similar story: Organic items I’ve purchased for the same price or lower than conventional by always making my grocery list with the store’s food ads in front of me, checking the store’s clearance area, knowing which stores have the best deals on which items, using coupons when possible, comparison shopping, and keeping track of an item’s normal selling price.
No wonder my brain feels full.
I should start a regular series of my cheap-o organic finds. Hmmm…
*Well, most of the time, say, 97-99% of the time. I have virtually eliminated chemical additives of all kinds from our food and other non-healthy stuff like corn syrup and hydrogenated fats. But, occasionally, a couple not-perfectly-healthy things slip in. My least “clean” purchase this week was two boxes (for my older two, gluten-eating sons) of General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios. $2.98 for two 12.25 oz boxes, on sale plus a coupon. See ingredients and nutrition info below. Not terrible, certainly, but not fabulous.